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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Gangubai Kathiawadi: Who Is Mumbai’s ‘Mafia Queen’?

The first look posters of Gangubai Kathiawadi – directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali has finally been revealed and has piqued a wide interest.

Bhansali Productions recently tweeted the first looks saying:

“Strength. Power. Fear! One look, a thousand emotions. Presenting the first look of Gangubai Kathiawadi. In cinemas 11 September 2020.”

Gangubai Kathiawadi marks Alia Bhatt’s first film with Bhansali.

Kathiawadi’s life has been chronicled in the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai, penned by best-selling novelist and retired investigative reporter S Hussain Zaidi.

Gangubai was multi-faceted: Indian criminal, don, sex worker, businesswoman and a controversial figure from Kathiawar, India.

She operated a sex racket in the Hera Mandi red light district and emerged as a very influential figure in Mumbai through the 60s.

Ganga Harjeevan Das Kathiawadi was born in 1939 in Kathiawar.

She came from a well-settled family and being the only girl child in her family, she was apparently quite pampered by her parents.

She studied a local government school of Gujarat and despite finishing her school education she didn’t study further.

One day, at the age of 16, Gangubai fell in love with her father’s accountant and ran away with him to Mumbai.

Kathiawadi is said to have been interested in acting and wanted to try her luck in films.

But her life changed when her husband sold her for Rs. 500 to a brothel, forcing her into prostitution.

Gangubai was compassionate towards other women from the community.

According to media reports, she used her influence to champion the rights of sex workers and affirmed that their job didn’t authorise anyone to violate them.

Gangubai slowly rose to power through her links with the Mumbai underworld.

She maintained and operated many brothels in the red light district of the city, ultimately earning herself the name, ‘Madam of Kamathipura’.

The powerful individual rode in a black Bentley, the only brothel owner to have one in those times.

Because of her personal ordeal, Gangubai was compassionate towards other women from the community.

She used her influence to champion the rights of sex workers and their empowerment and affirmed that her job did not authorise anyone to violate her.

Reportedly, she even requested then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to address difficulties encountered by sex workers.

Her attempts to better the living conditions in Kamathipura won her respect from the community.

Given that her story is quite grim and gritty, it would be interesting to see how a visionary filmmaker like SLB will present this on celluloid

Having seen Alia play such a character in films like Udta Punjab, it will also be fascinating to see her portray Gangubai. 

The film releases on 11th September.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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